Over my 30 year career, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects with diverse project teams, complex programs, and challenging schedules – several of which could easily be consider “once in a lifetime” opportunities. I’ve also been fortunate that many of these projects have been performed in a collaborative team based approach that was an essential component of the successful delivery of these projects.
In talking about this subject, I’m going to use the terminology of an Integrated Project Team Process, and intentionally stay away from the term of Integrated Project Design (IDP) which is already potentially overused by too many parties to refer to a wide range of more specific agendas. For example, the USGBC and the sustainable design industry have long adopted a definition of Integrated Project Design as an essential component of the sustainable design Process, and organizations such as the American Institute of Architects and ConcensusDOCS have developed contract forms and guides focusing on formalizing various versions of an IDP approach.
For me, those efforts start to add more complexity around what I see as the much more basic and universally beneficial approach of an Integrated Project Team, and that is the subject that I’ll speak to in this Blog and future follow-ups.
So what exactly is an Integrated Project Team Process? From my experience, it is comprised of the following four essential components:
1. A Highly Engaged Client
The only reason that any design and construction project is performed is that the Owner has a personal, business or organizational need that requires a real estate solution to acheive. Stop and think about this a minute. No one builds, upfits, or renovates a building just for the fun of it. They have real purpose and objective they are trying to acheive, and understanding the Owner’s requirements, goals, and expectations is essential to delivering a project solution that truly aligns with those needs.
Therefore it should not come as any surprise that one of the first and most important components of project success is to have the Owner as deeply immersed in the project design and implementation process as possible. That allows them to provide and continuously refine the project goals, understand how the project is being developed, and to provide continual decisions and directions to keep the project aligned with goals.
Whether they realize it or not, the Owner is also the key to maintaining project team buy-in to the Intergrated Project Team Process, and their actions in leading by example is critical to the success of this approach. If the Owner values, trusts, and respects the project team members, and works in a collaborative manner, then the rest of the team will follow that lead. If not, then the process will suffer and fail.
2. A Complete Project Team
The second key component of an Integrated Project Team Process is to engage the core and supplemental project team members as early as possible in the project process. The Architect, Engineers, and Contractor are all engaged at the project start, and other consultants and subcontractors are engaged as soon as their expertise can become beneficial to the project development.
The purpose here is to engage the the appropriate expertise at the right time so that the project team has the most complete technical, cost, schedule, and other information available to in turn allow the Owner and project team to make decisions that are in the best interest of the Project.
This complete project team also applies to the Owner, where is is equally important for the Owner’s project leader to engage other members of the Owner’s team at appropriate points to provide requirements, review and comment on design development, and coordinate on items that will be provided directly by the Owner – such as facility management and maintenance, furniture systems, technology systems, and similar items.
Lack of information leads to assumptions and guessing. Good and complete information at the appropriate time leads to informed decision-making aligned with the project goals. It really is that simple.
3. A Highly Collaborative Process
The third component of an Integrated Project Team Process is that the project team members must work together in a highly collaborative process where they share their expertise, and value, trust and respect the expertise of the other team members.
This has to be more that simply involving the full team up front and having them meet on a regular basis. The team members have to become actual partners where they proactively help each other. For example, the Architect & Engineers have to provide detailed information and assumptions early in the design process if they want the Contractor to be able to put together valid budget pricing. And then the Contractor has to provide detailed clarifications and assumptions in the budget pricing so the architect can validate those assumptions, identify areas where changes might help improve the budget or schedule, and can continue to develop the design in line with the budget assumptions. This is a simple concept, but it requires commitment and proactive behavior.
The most important part of achieving this component of the Integrated Project Team Process is to hire firms and people who genuinely want to collaborate, know how to collaborate, and naturally work in a collaborative manner. Collaborators will collaborate when given the chance. Prima Donna’s don’t.
4. A Commitment to Shared Success
The fourth component of an Integrated Project Team Process is the belief in common success. The first part of this is that all parties involved must truly commit to the mindset that making the project successful for the Client is the most important goal, and that their individual firms cannot be individually successful without achieving this primary goal. The second part is that the parties involved must also be committed to helping each other be individually successful.
I was introduced to this concept early in my career by the retired CEO of a Fortune 500 company. During a point where the project we were involved in was going through a challenge and the Owner’s team was trying to decide how to proceed, he surprised me by saying that he wanted to make sure the Contractor would make a profit. He went on to explain that he understood that any Contractor operated as a business, and therefore if they were not being profitable on a project, then the Contractor would be pressed to look for cost saving approaches such as performing the project with less oversight, less staff, less experienced staff, or inexperienced and less reliable subcontractors. The potential impacts would then be lower quality construction, increased chance of errors, and late or incomplete work. To this CEO, it was a simple business fact – if he wanted his company to be successful, then he needed to help ensure his partners, vendors, and consultants would also be successful. That conversation has stuck with me for 30 years now, and helps remind me that if I want to be personally successful and my firm to be successful, then I have to do all I can to make my Owner, the Contractor, and other project team members successful as well.
This all sounds so simple and obvious doesn’t it? Well, in many ways it really is that simple and will consistently lead to successful projects. However, it does require a deliberate use of this approach, buy-in from the entire project team, and each project team member staying committed to their roles and responsibilities throughout the project.
We’ll explore the Integrated Project Team Process participant roles and key success factors in future posts.